A. Katz amnfn at well.com
Wed Apr 25 19:03:30 UTC 2007

Things composed of atoms don't look like giant atoms, but the
subcomponents of trees -- trunks, branches, twigs, etc. -- do look like
each other. I'm talking about real trees, not the abstract kind used by
Chomsky. It's as if the program for making a tree had a subroutine that
said "grow a branch". It looks as if the tree growing program
called on the same subroutine many times during the life of the tree.

This type of iteration is found throughout nature. It is more than
hierarchy, and the effect is not redundancy. It's getting a lot of mileage
out of the same pattern.

     --Aya Katz

Dr. Aya Katz, Inverted-A, Inc, P.O. Box 267, Licking, MO
65542 USA
(417) 457-6652 (573) 247-0055

On Wed, 25 Apr 2007 Mike_Cahill at sil.org wrote:

> In response to Aya Katz below,
> Isn't this conflating recursion and hierarchy? Of course an object or event
> or polymorphemic word can be broken down into subparts, and these subparts
> into other subparts. Hierarchy is indeed built into nature: a molecule is
> composed of atoms, atoms are composed of protons, neutrons, and electrons,
> and these can be broken down as well. The difference is that each atom of a
> molecule is on the same level as other atoms - we don't have atoms within
> atoms. Recursion is embedding - clause within clause, etc. Repetition is
> not recursion.
> Just so we're clear on what we're discussing.
> Mike Cahill
> **************************************************************
> Dr. Michael Cahill
> International Linguistics Coordinator, SIL International
> 7500 W. Camp Wisdom Rd.
> Dallas, TX 75236
> email: mike_cahill at sil.org
> phone: 972-708-7328
> fax: 972-708-7380
> **************************************************************
> *****************************************************************************
> Of course language uses finite means to achieve non-finite ends -- or at
> least, indeterminately long ends. So does DNA code and computer code,
> without the intermediary of the human mind. That kind of recursion runs
> throughout nature, just in the way a flower's patterns are full of the
> repetition of the same subpatterns and just as snowflakes are composed of
> tiny miniature patterns that repeat at different levels of magnification to
> form the whole. It doesn't matter whether the item we examine is animate or
> inanimate, recursion is everywhere.
> Even if a language doesn't have a very complex syntax, even if there are
> not any dependent clauses or embedding, the language has recursion
> in its phonology and morphology. Surely the words of PirahaN are not
> monolithic wholes with no subparts that recur in other words. Even if
> Keren Everett is correct in her assessment that the real grammar of
> PirahaN is in the prosody and not in the non-prosodic segments, then still
> there must be something that recurs -- musical notes or pitch patterns.
> After all, even if you listen to songbirds, a song is composed of
> recurring musical phrases whose arrangement is the specific content of the
> song.
> It is impossible to get away from that kind of recursion, but it is not
> necessarily hardwired in the human brain in a language module. It is built
> into the mathematics of reality. If you want to encode information, that is
> how you are going to have to do it. There is no other way.
> Best,
>        --Aya Katz

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